Thursday, March 08, 2012

"Partials" by Dan Wells-- Hovers Between YA and Adult Fiction

The human race is all but extinct after a war with Partials—engineered organic beings identical to humans—has decimated the population. Reduced to only tens of thousands by RM, a weaponized virus to which only a fraction of humanity is immune, the survivors in North America have huddled together on Long Island while the Partials have mysteriously retreated. The threat of the Partials is still imminent, but, worse, no baby has been born immune to RM in more than a decade. Our time is running out.

Kira, a sixteen-year-old medic-in-training, is on the front lines of this battle, seeing RM ravage the community while mandatory pregnancy laws have pushed what's left of humanity to the brink of civil war, and she's not content to stand by and watch. But as she makes a desperate decision to save the last of her race, she will find that the survival of humans and Partials alike rests in her attempts to uncover the connections between them—connections that humanity has forgotten, or perhaps never even knew were there.

There were several things that jumped out at me when I first read the synopsis for Partials by Dan Wells, from the "mandatory pregnancy laws" to the idea of organic beings that look just like us, and in many respects the promise of the description was delivered very well. In other respects, I felt like I was reading a revised version of "Battlestar Galactica."

Like "BSG" the human population of Earth is virtually wiped out when genetically engineered people, in this case called Partials instead of Cylons, turn on their creators. Instead of being destroyed by a series of nuclear explosions, humanity is destroyed by a virulent virus that very few people have an immunity to. And rather than fleeing into space, the remnants of humanity somehow end up in Long Island while they warily wait for the Partials to make their final attack.

The added wrinkle to this story is the fact that no baby born in the eleven years since the original attack has survived more than a few days after birth. Out of desperation The Senate has instituted mandatory pregnancy laws that require women to give birth as often as possible once they turn eighteen-- and The Senate is thinking of dropping the age limit.

In a lot of ways "Partials" is my kind of YA fiction. The main characters are teenagers but the dystopian backdrop insures that they don't act like your average high schoolers. These kids have had adult responsibilities from a very young age and the looming reality of enforced childbirth hangs heavy over the girls. But my taste in YA fiction is probably not in-sync with your average teen girl and I must confess that the lack of angst and romance may work against Wells in this case.

Kira, the main character of the story, is also a pretty good heroine. She's smart-- somewhat unrealistically so-- and definitely a girl of action. Kira drives the whole story and you get a sense that the Senate has virtually given up on searching for a cure for the virus-- intending to rely on continuous births to finally produce an immune child. Kira's determination to save humanity is certainly an admirable quality, but it's always presented against the unrealistic stubbornness and greed of The Senate and it does get tiring when none of the adults are presented in a positive light-- something that may not bother teen readers of this book.

The secondary characters are likable, but a bit vague. It's hard to tell if we're supposed to like Kira's boyfriend as he is sometimes a bit needy, while at other times very understanding. I get the feeling he's replaceable. Her friends are revealed almost exclusively through dialog so we never get more than a superficial view into their likes, dislikes, hope, dreams etc., and that makes them harder to connect to. The same goes for the antagonists in the book-- all dialog; so we're left to speculate as to their real motives, which adds some mystery but takes away depth.

The science in "Partials" is a big part of the story and may end up feeling a bit technical for some readers, thought it is quite stripped down to make it easily understandable. I've read a few reviews that claim the military element is too heavy as well, though it really only exists on the periphery of the story. Personally I liked these aspects of the story as it added a sense of realism and made a lot of sense in the overall context.

On the whole I liked "Partials." The plot is somewhat derivative of "Battlestar Galactica" but offers a few good twists that makes it a unique story in its own right. I like Wells' style of writing a great deal as he excels at the "show don't tell" type of narrative, though the characterizations do occasionally fall flat as a result. The pacing is excellent and Wells' ability to drive up the tension is on full display. I also appreciated that the story wasn't too easy to anticipate and kept me guessing quite a bit. While I do have a few critiques I did enjoy "Partials" and feel it has the potential to turn into a pretty good series-- I will definitely be checking out the sequel.

3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.


Charles Gramlich said...

Sounds interesting. Does sound like BG. I like that cover. Evocative

SQT said...

It has a lot of potential. Definitely BSG-like, but I think it'll develop into its own mythology.